Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes were used to determine the ultimate autotrophic sources supporting production of three commercially important fish species over unvegetated mudflats in a subtropical estuary. Mean isotope values over the whole estuary for fish and autotroph sources were modeled to indicate feasible combinations of sources. Variability in isotope values among nine locations (separated by 3–10 km) was then used as a further test of the likelihood that sources were involved in fish nutrition. A positive spatial correlation between isotope values of a fish species and an autotroph indicates a substantial contribution from the autotroph. Spatial correlations were tested with a newly developed randomization procedure using differences between fish and autotroph values at each location, based on carbon and nitrogen isotopes combined in two-dimensional space. Both whole estuary modeling and spatial analysis showed that seagrass, epiphytic algae and particulate organic matter in the water column, including phytoplankton, are likely contributors to bream (Acanthopagrus australis) nutrition. However, spatial analysis also showed that mangroves were involved (up to 33% contribution), despite a very low contribution from whole estuary modeling. Spatial analysis on sand whiting (Sillago ciliata) demonstrated the importance of two sources, mangroves (up to 25%) and microalgae on the mudflats, considered unimportant based on whole estuary modeling. No spatial correlations were found between winter whiting (Sillago maculata) and autotrophs, either because fish moved among locations or relied on different autotrophs at different locations. Spatial correlations between consumer and source isotope values provide a useful analytical tool for identifying the role of autotrophs in foodwebs, and demonstrated here that both in situ production of microalgae and organic matter from adjacent habitats were important to fish over mudflats.
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We thank G. Mount and B. Thomas for field assistance, K. Preston for processing microalgae samples, and T. Gaston for comments on the manuscript. This project was supported by a Fisheries Research and Development Corporation grant to R.M.C.
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Melville, A.J., Connolly, R.M. Spatial analysis of stable isotope data to determine primary sources of nutrition for fish. Oecologia 136, 499–507 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-003-1302-8
- Spatial variability